Why Magnesium is the Vital Nutrient That Most of Us Are Short On (+ 11 Things You Can Do About It)

Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in your body, including: (1)

  • Protein synthesis
  • Nerve function
  • DNA synthesis
  • Glucose regulation
  • Blood pressure regulation
  • Bone formation
  • Energy production
  • and more

Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in adults, with roughly 80 percent of the population not getting enough.

How can so many be deficient in such an important mineral? The two main causes boil down to soil depletion, which creates lower magnesium levels in crops, and the rise of digestive disorders that prevent magnesium from being absorbed properly in the gut.

10 Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium deficiency often goes undetected because it doesn’t show up on blood tests. This is because magnesium is mostly stored in your bones, cells, and soft tissues, causing it to easily be overlooked by doctors who see nothing amiss in blood samples.

If you have any of the most common symptoms listed below, it could be worth asking your doctor to specifically test your magnesium levels.

Symptoms of low magnesium include:

  • Insomnia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Mood swings
  • Hypertension
  • Cramps and muscle weakness
  • Constipation
  • Migraines
  • PMS
  • Depression
  • Chronic Fatigue

7 Health Benefits for Increasing Magnesium Levels

The benefits of increasing your magnesium levels are nothing short of impressive.

1. Improve Heart Health

Magnesium is a vital mineral for all activities in your body that require electrical activity, which includes your heart. Studies have shown that magnesium can improve overall heart function, reducing heart risk factors such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, and arrhythmias. (2)

Researchers have also discovered that low magnesium levels can predict cardiovascular-related deaths, regardless of cardiovascular risk factors. (3) Adequate magnesium levels, on the other hand, have shown in studies to reduce risk of stroke, heart failure, and all-cause mortality. (4)

2. Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

It turns out that not only are low magnesium levels a major risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, but also determine how it progresses. For instance, studies have shown that the lower the magnesium levels in diabetes patients, the faster their renal function deteriorates. (5) This shows that maintaining high levels can ward off deterioration caused by the disease, or possibly even prevent it from developing in the first place.

Additionally, magnesium deficiency is also associated with metabolic syndrome, which is characterized by a cluster of symptoms including obesity, hypertension, and glucose intolerance—all risk factors for developing diabetes. (6)

reduce inflammation

3. Reduce Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is the hallmark of many diseases, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. When inflammation is present in your body, proteins like C-reactive protein and interleukin 6—both inflammatory markers—are detected in high amounts.

Low magnesium levels have been linked with an increase in these inflammatory markers, while adequate magnesium levels is shown to reduce them. (7)

4. Improve Mood and Calm Nerves

Magnesium plays an important role in the function of GABA, a neurotransmitter with a hand in producing the “happy” neurotransmitter, serotonin. Studies have shown that low levels of magnesium result in increased anxiety and depression, and also increases in stress and cortisol levels. (8)

Adequate magnesium intake has also been shown to have a protective effect against physical damage caused by excess stress. (9)

5. Improve Digestion

Magnesium’s ability to help bring calm also extends to your digestive system, where it works to relax the intestinal wall, helping to relieve constipation.

In fact, studies have shown that constipation is actually associated with low magnesium intake, and have found that taking magnesium supplements can be more effective than over-the-counter laxatives in treating it. (10)

6. Maintain Bone Health

Magnesium plays an important role in bone health by being involved in the regulation of calcium and the production of bone-building osteoblasts and osteoclasts. (11) Magnesium is also involved in vitamin D regulation, which helps maintain bone homeostasis.

Research shows that women with osteoporosis have low magnesium levels, and that magnesium deficiency is a risk factor for developing osteoporosis. (12) Studies have also shown that increasing magnesium intake can increase bone density. (13)

7. Boost Energy Levels

Magnesium is essential in helping cells produce adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which is what provides your body with energy. A lack of magnesium can also negatively affect cells and mitochondria (the “power center” of cells), causing fatigue. (14)

Magnesium is also responsible for normal heart rhythm, nerve impulses, and muscle contractions, so a deficiency could cause workouts and day-to-day movements to become sluggish. (15)

8 Ways to Get Magnesium Through Your Diet

spinach salad

Even though many soils are depleted in magnesium, there are still several foods that contain abundant amounts. Try adding in a serving or two of at least three of these foods to your daily diet to increase your levels.

Note: The RDA for men is 400 milligrams, while the RDA for women is 310 milligrams.

1. Pumpkin Seeds

1/8 cup: 23% DV (92 milligrams)

Pumpkin seeds are a tasty, easy, and affordable option to include in your magnesium-rich diet. Toss them in salads, roast them with sweet and smoky spices, or just eat them plain as a snack. You can get almost half of your required daily value in one small serving of ¼ cup.

Try this: Spiced Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

2. Dark Chocolate

1 square: 24% DV (95 milligrams)

One of the major theories behind chocolate cravings is actually magnesium deficiency, since chocolate is such a rich source. Add a square or two to your after-dinner ritual for a decadent magnesium and antioxidant boost. Just be sure the chocolate you buy has no additives and states that it contains at least 75 percent cacao.

Try this: Chocolate Coconut Drops

3. Spinach

1 cup: 40% DV (157 milligrams)

If you eat a daily spinach salad, you’re already ahead of the game. Just one cup provides almost half of your daily required amount, so add another cup or add a handful to a smoothie to really boost your amount.

Try this: Basil Spinach Salad

4. Almonds

1 ounce: 20% DV (80 milligrams)

Consuming almonds as a snack or adding them to salads or smoothie bowls is a quick and easy way to get a good dose of magnesium. Just be sure to stick to one small handful if you’re trying to lose weight, as nuts like almonds are extremely calorie-dense.

Try this: Almond Muffins

5. Chard

1 cup: 38% DV (154 milligrams)

Chard, like spinach, is another powerhouse source of magnesium. Add a cup to salads, smoothies, or a stir-fry to get nearly half your daily recommended amount.

Try this: Creamy Chard

avocado egg bowl

6. Avocado

1 medium: 15% DV (58 milligrams)

Avocado is another rich source of magnesium, and is also extremely versatile in recipes. Use it chopped up in salads, or combine it with cacao powder, coconut oil, and almond milk in a food processor to make chocolate “pudding.” Bonus: you’ll also get a double-dose of magnesium from the cacao powder.

Try this: Avocado Chocolate Mousse

7. Figs

½ cup: 13% DV (50 milligrams)

Figs are a sweet way to get in your daily magnesium. While the fresh variety is rarely available year-round, you can always find them dried in health food stores.

Try this: Fig and Prosciutto Eggplant Toast

8. Sesame Seeds (1/4 cup, 32 percent)

1/4 cup: 32% DV (126 milligrams)

Before you judge them by their size, know that sesame seeds pack a serious magnesium punch. They’re great in all kinds of recipes, and can even be pureed into tahini to make salad dressings and as an alternative to peanut butter.

Try this: Slow Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken

What About Magnesium Supplements?

There are many magnesium supplements on the market, each with different levels of absorbability.

Magnesium citrate

For improving digestion or to use as a gentle laxative, magnesium citrate is often your best choice, as long as you don’t take more than the recommended dosage.

Magnesium chelate

This is the type of magnesium found in foods and is commonly used to increase levels if you have a deficiency.

Magnesium glycinate

Magnesium glycinate is said to have less of a laxative effect than other magnesium forms, and makes a great option if you have sensitive digestion.

Other Options for Magnesium Supplementation

epsom salt bath

If you do decide to go the supplement route but don’t want to mess with your digestion, one of your best options is magnesium chloride oil. Magnesium applied topically greatly increases its absorption, allowing you to get your levels up faster. (16)

Another option is to supplement your magnesium-rich diet with Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) baths at least three times a week. Similar to magnesium oil, Epsom salt is absorbed through your skin as you soak.

Cautions for Supplementation

As mentioned earlier, taking magnesium orally can have laxative effects. This is why it’s important not to take excessive amounts. Start with the recommended dosage, then increase it slightly by ¼ serving if you feel you need more.

Bottom Line

As you can see, magnesium plays a role in so many biological processes, it can be hard to tell if it’s the root cause of any one ailment. Getting your levels tested, however, can possibly mean the difference between developing diabetes or remaining healthy, or even between having anxiety attacks or not.

Either way, filling in a magnesium gap is bound to have positive effects through reducing stress and providing your body with the energy it needs to get you through the day.

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